Ihsan Rustem

Dance review: NW Dance Project’s stocking stuffers

NW Dance Project’s holiday show, conceived by its dancers and resident choreographer, felt a lot like a sampler plate of grandma's cookies

Before I jump into reviewing NW Dance Project’s holiday showWinter Wonders, which opened and closed over the weekend at Lincoln Performance Hall—I’m going to tell you about my Christmas stocking. Why? Because as I left Lincoln Hall Thursday night, that stocking and all of the little gifts that end up stuffed into it on Christmas morning was all I could think of as the dancers took their final bow. 

My Christmas stocking was no ordinary stocking, not the generic, mass-produced numbers you can get at almost any retailer this time of year. My father cross-stitched my stocking by hand from threads of the most wintry hues, attaching sequins as he went and embellishing it with penguins ice skating in their snowy wonderland. When he was done, it hung in a line of five brilliantly unique stockings, all handmade. Every Christmas morning, I’d wait to pull out the random assortment of goodies hidden inside. And of course, I hoped for an orange at the bottom, to acknowledge that I’d been good that year. 

But let’s get back to the show—this favorite memory does relate, promise! 

Kody Jauron and Katherine Disenhof in Andrea Parson’s “Oh Deer!” in NW Dance Project’s “Winter Wonders”/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

NW Dance Project opened its holiday show, Winter Wonders, with some big questions. Company dancer Kevin Pajarillaga mimed along to a voice that rang throughout the hall, and the program got right into the nitty-gritty of an artist’s work—the questions that, in one form or another, artists of all sorts tend to ask themselves.

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NW Dance Project: 3 for the show

The agile Portland company kicks off its 16th season with a trio of works by Ihsan Rustem, Luca Veggetti, and Patrick Delcroix

When Franco Nieto, all red-nosed and disheveled and comically herky-jerk, strolled in front of the stage curtain in the Newmark Theatre Thursday evening like a side-show barker or a tramp clown, the audience leaned forward on full alert. It leaned forward farther as he proceeded to behave like an especially rubbery baggy-pants comic in a vaudeville act. And when he casually slid beneath the curtain with the boneless ease of an eel and disappeared, leaving the stage empty, laughter began rippling across the auditorium. For the remainder of Ihsan Rustem’s jaunty comic hit Le Fil Rouge it pretty much didn’t stop. Nieto and his fellow NW Dance Project performers had the crowd right where they wanted it: surprised, amused, and eager for more.

Colleen Loverde and Anthony Pucci in the world premiere of Patrick Delcroix’s Invisible Spark. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Le Fil Rouge was the capper of NW Dance Project’s 16th-season-opening show Infall (it repeats Friday and Saturday nights), and a bit of a homecoming as well. Rustem, a Londoner whose first piece with the Portland company, State of Matter, was performed by the company dancers twice in London as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, has been NDP’s resident choreographer since 2015. The two other choreographers on the program – French dancemaker Patrick Delcroix and Italian choreographer Luca Veggetti – also have productive histories with the company.

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Comedy tussles with drama in NDP’s ‘Room 4,’ ‘Carmen’

Physical humor animates premiere and revival in the dance company's 15th season opener

The premise of Sarah Slipper’s new dance Room 4, which opened Thursday in the Newmark Theatre and is continuing its premiere production through Saturday night, is quirky and appealing, in a how’s-she-going-to-do-that? way: to cross the cryptic playwright Harold Pinter with the over-the-top comedy troupe Monty Python, translate both into the world of dance, and see what happens.

From left: Disenhof, Couture, Parson, and Nieto in the premiere of NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper’s “Room 4.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

In a way, it seems an impossible challenge. Pinter and Python are almost opposites of the British theater, Pinter with his minimalist pauses and impenetrable meanings, Python with its absurdist maximalist glee. Pinter can be humorous, but in a dank and baleful way. Python stares into the abyss and finds it an uproariously funny place, a droll minefield of jokiness. Yet both also share an ingrained suspicion of human nature and institutions, both rely on cleanliness and sharpness for their theatrical effects, and both are bent on upsetting the apple cart of convention. It’s here, in Pinter’s evasive precision, Python’s oddball physicality, and their shared jaundice, that Slipper and her Northwest Dance Project performers find a common vein. Cleanliness is next to godliness, not that either Pinter or Python holds a lot of truck with the Big Guy.

Room 4 is performed by four dancers, each named simply and cryptically by a color: William Couture (Mr. Brown), Katherine Disenhof (Ms. Green), Franco Nieto (Mr. Grey) and Andrea Parson (Ms. Blue). They are in an office, that enduring 20th and 21st century symbol of hell on earth, with desks and no windows, and are struggling for supremacy in quest of a rumored promotion for one of them to the much-desired “outer office,” which includes a window that actually opens. There’ll be a twist, and that’s really all you need to know about the plot. The dancers move in concert to text recorded by a quartet of actors and consisting of a string of repeated office-hell phrases: “Why bother?”; “We’re all in this together.”

One of Slipper’s great strengths as a choreographer is her knowledge of what her dancers’ bodies can do and her ability to shape their motions in surprising ways. The four dancers in Room 4 move fluidly yet somehow also haltingly together, reaching, bumping, stacking, stretching against one another and the desks onstage, creating a bumptious action that at once goes all over the place and nowhere at all. And in spite of the forced conformity of the office atmosphere, the dancers’ individual personalities find their space, from Nieto’s swagger to Disenhof’s sly sass. The piece begins with a paper bag stuck over one of the office workers’ heads, and the whole thing’s carried out in a blind and empty routine that seems to want to be both comic and harrowing. The miming’s terrific – stylized large-gesture movement that surely owes something to Monty Python’s exaggerated physical storytelling, although in one of the funniest sequences the modus operandi seems closer to the Three Stooges.

The color-coded costumes are by Alexa Stark, the excellent lighting by Jeff Forbes, and the suitably foreboding found-sound score by Owen Belton. In the end, the unstable balance between comedy and drama tips toward the dramatic, which lands the comedy a square one on the jaw. That would be Pinter, winning over Python in a TKO.

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The company in Ihsan Rustem’s “Carmen.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The humor comes out to play more clearly in the second, longer portion of the program, the return of resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s Carmen, which is updated to the 1950s, complete with rockabilly impressions and a concentration on hair: a beauty shop for the woman dancers, a barber shop for the men. This Carmen was a delight when it premiered in 2017, and it’s a delight now: Rustem’s taken a story almost as familiar as the tale of Santa’s visits down the chimney, and made it his own. This program marks the beginning of NDP’s 15th season and reflects a natural evolution. The company began with a commitment to perform only original works, and has done them by the dozens. It’s an adventurous mission, by its nature something of an unpredictable joy ride. Some of the dances, of course, stand out from the pack, and the company has gradually begun to build a repertory of such pieces that it keeps and repeats. Now, all of NDP’s dances are original, but not all of them are new.

Three of the four main dancers from 2017 return to their roles here: Andrea Parson as the cool-temperature, nouveau-riche seductress Carmen; Franco Nieto as DJ (for Don José), who falls intemperately for Carmen’s charms; and Lindsey McGill as the sweet but forlorn Micaëla, who was engaged to DJ until Carmen slinked into town. A late injury sidelined Elijah Labay, who is replaced quite swimmingly by Anthony Pucci as Eli, the sideburned, swiveling new guy in town, who plays Carmen’s game possibly better than she does herself.

Nieto hoists Parson in “Carmen.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Rustem knows how to shape a narrative beautifully, creating something of a contemporary riff on the classic story ballet, and his wit is always present but never overpowering. Once again the dancing is crisp and superb, with the Wolf Pack women’s corps of Disenhof, Samantha Campbell, Colleen Loverde, and Julia Radick matching the men’s corps of Kevin Pajarillaga, Couture, Kody Jauron, and the slyly named “Hair Dryer” like socks to a hop.

As Jamuna Chiarini reported a few days ago, four long-time company members are leaving after this production. Labay and Radick, who recently married, are moving to his native Quebec. McGill is going home to Texas, and Campbell wants to move into arts administration. All four will be missed. Newcomers Loverde and Pajarillaga are stepping in, and look to be good additions.

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Northwest Dance Project’s Room 4 and Carmen have their final performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, in the Newmark Theatre of Portand’5 Centers for the Arts. Ticket information here.

 

 

This is a really big week for NW Dance Project. The company, directed by Sarah Slipper, celebrates its 15th season; premieres Slipper’s new work, Room 4; remounts the dark, quirky Carmen by resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem; says goodbye to four longtime company dancers, and welcomes two new ones.

Room 4, which I saw in rehearsal Tuesday, is a dance/conversation/argument for two women, two men, and four desks. It takes place in a small, dark, windowless office. The source of tension is a coveted promotion to “the outer office,” which causes strife among the office workers. The work is loosely inspired by Counterpart–a science-fi-thriller television series that takes place in parallel dimensions full of intrigue, espionage, and government conspiracies–and the witty repartee between characters in Monty Python’s absurdist comedy sketch Argument Clinic. Owen Belton’s score for this piece is a cinematic mix of found sounds that he recorded out and about in the world, like the sound of a buzzing electric light, mixed with a recording of four Seattle actors performing a script Slipper wrote. The costumes are genderless; instead, color is used to distinguish each character.

Rustem’s Carmen, which premiered in 2017, is back, deeper and richer than ever. His twist on Georges Bizet’s Carmen sets the story in a beauty parlor and barber shop instead of the bullrings of southern Spain, and this time out, there’s a new character, Rusty, who is just a little too keen on the scissors. What hasn’t changed is the wealth of seduction, secrecy, betrayal, and death: enough to satisfy all your carnal desires. And there is fierce, exhaustive dancing with quite a bit of comedy to balance it all out. This 40-minute work uses Bizet’s Carmen Suite without the vocals, and features sets by Spanish designer Luis Crespo and costumes by Portland fashion designer and Project Runway winner Michelle Lesniak. In 2017, ArtsWatch senior editor/writer Bob Hicks reviewed it, which you can read here.

The dancers leaving the company are Samantha Campbell, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, and Julia Radick. Labay and Radick, who were married this summer, are headed for Quebec, in Labay’s native Canada. Campbell, who has been with the company since 2009, plans to transition into arts administration, and McGill, who has been with the company since 2012, will return to her native Texas to pursue a range of interests, including dance.

The company has added dancers Colleen Loverde and Kevin Pajarillaga, both of whom Slipper chose through NW Dance Project’s summer Launch program this July.

Performances this week

NW Dance Project Carmen dress rehearsal, Ihsan Rustem choreography. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

Carmen and Room 4 (World Premiere)
NW Dance Project, Ihsan Rustem and Sarah Slipper
September 27-29
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
See above.

Ahmet Luleci
Presented by Ruby Beh
8 pm September 29
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St

Turkey native and Boston resident Ahmet Luleci, an expert in Anatolian folk dances, comes to Portland for two days to present workshops, lectures, and a Saturday evening performance focused on regional styles of folkloric Turkish dance and music. Luleci, a choreographer, performer and dance teacher, serves as artistic director of the Boston-based Collage Dance Ensemble.

Super dancer Carlyn Hudson leaping through the cosmos. Photo by Design By Goats.

Some Are Silver
Carlyn Hudson
7:30 pm September 29
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
Portland choreographer Carlyn Hudson presents Some Are Silver, a collection of three world premieres and several older works that effortlessly slip between contemporary dance, ballet, and vaudeville, and weave together humor, heartache, and beauty. The choreography reflects an array of contrasting ideas performed to jazz, classical, and folk music. The cast includes Briley Jozwiak, Amelia Unsicker, Elle Crowley, Anna Marra, Kara Girod, Mari Kai Juras, and Hudson herself.

Hudson, originally from Nyack, New York, is the daughter of a dancer and a visual artist/woodworker. She earned her BFA in Dance from SUNY Purchase, performed with Connecticut Ballet, and co-founded SubRosa Dance Collective in 2011 with Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh, Tia Palomino, and Zahra Banzi.

ArtsWatch writer Elizabeth Whelan reviewed Some Are Silver, which you can read here.

Dancers from the Beijing Dance Academy. Photo courtesy of Portland’5 Center For The Arts.

China In Dance
Beijing Dance Academy
Presented by American Asian Performing Arts Theatre
7 pm September 30
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Beijing Dance Academy, a state-funded professional dance school in China that specializes in ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance, musical theater, and contemporary dance, will debut 30 of its most talented dancers performing ten classical dances. The program includes Liang Zhu (Butterfly Lovers, known as the Chinese Romeo and Juliet) and Yellow River, which depicts the origin of Chinese culture and spirit.

Upcoming Performances

October
October 4-6, Come to your senses, Pilobolus, Presented by White Bird
October 5-6, Shiny Angles in Angular Time, Melinda Ring, and Renée Archibald
October 6-13, Napoli, Oregon Ballet Theatre
October 6-7, Hamlet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
October 9, The New Chinese Acrobats, Eugene
October 11-15, Portland Tango Festival
October 11-16, Circa, Presented by White Bird
October 11-20, Bloody Vox: Deadline October, BodyVox
October 12-13, Change(d) Together, The Circus Project
October 12-20, A Spine Tingling Soiree, Wild Rumpus Jazz Co.
October 12-21, Portland Dance Film Fest
October 18-20, Lucy Guerin Inc, Presented by White Bird
October 19, Everything’s Copacetic, The Skylark Tappers
October 20, Clock that Mug or Dusted, Cherdonna Shinatra, Presented by Risk/Reward
October 20, As You Like It-A Wild West Ballet, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
October 20-21, The Man Who Forgot, The Portland Tap Company
October 22, Dance Artist Talk: Lucy Guerin, Reed College
October 26, Star Dust, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Eugene
October 26, Flamenco Pacifico, Presented by Berto Boyd
October 28, Matices Criollos, Peruvian Cultural Festival

November
November 2-4, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre
November 4, civilized-Happy Hour, Catherine Egan
November 9-11, Cloth, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 11, La Sylphide, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
November 13-14, The Hip Hop Nutcracker, Jennifer Weber
November 14, Tangueros del Sur, Presented by White Bird
November 16-18, Perceiving The Constant, Jessica Hightower
November 23-25, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with PSU Orchestra, The Portland Ballet

December
December 2, Don Quixote, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
December 6-8, Winter Performance, NW Dance Project
December 8, So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018, Eugene
December 8-25, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 14-16, Babes in Toyland (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
December 21-23, The Nutcracker, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
December 23, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live

January 2019
January 9-20, The Lion King, Eugene
January 20, La Bayadère, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, Presented by White Bird

February
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo, Presented by White Bird
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, Presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, Presented by White Bird
February 29-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, Presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, Presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Spring Performance, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

Dance review: Singing, strife and stray oranges

NW Dance Project’s Summer Performances will send you into summer with a song

They’re going Gaga at Lincoln Hall this weekend, and I don’t mean the Lady variety. NW Dance Project’s Summer Performances, which run nightly through Saturday and close the company’s season, feature work by Ohad Naharin ambassador Danielle Agami, a master teacher of Naharin’s Gaga movement language.

Agami’s 2013 piece This Time Tomorrow illustrates the benefits of Gaga study, which emphasizes heightened physical awareness and clarity of form. Although much of this ensemble piece is set to fuzzy electronica, the movement is clean and purposeful throughout, whether it’s slithering/rolling/crawling across the floor, silly walks, multiple fouette turns or full-body freakouts.

Samantha Campbell, Julia Radick, and Elijah Labay in Danielle Agami’s “This Time Tomorrow” in NW Dance Project’s Summer Performances/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

It’s a wonderfully weird piece—choreographically varied, with sharp tempo and directional changes—and absurdist in feeling (kudos to the dancers for not wiping out on the oranges that come rolling out from the wings across the stage). It likely stretched the company kinesthetically and artistically, and it gives the rest of us something to mull over long after the show ends.

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ArtsWatch year in dance 2017

From ballet to world to contemporary, where the dance scene led, ArtsWatch followed. In 20 stories, a brisk stroll through the seasons.

Dance in Portland and Oregon has long been on the edge – often financially and sometimes artistically. Yet despite economic challenges you can’t keep it down: the city moves to a dance beat, and every week brings fresh performances. ArtsWatch writers got to a significant share of those shows in 2017, and wrote about them with breadth, wit, and insight.

The twenty ArtsWatch stories here don’t make up a “best of” list, though several of these shows could easily make one. They constitute, rather, a January-to-December snapshot of a rich and busy scene that runs from classical ballet to contemporary and experimental work.

 


 

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A dance down memory lane in 20 tales from ArtsWatch writers:

 

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A mellow Meadow like old times

Jan. 20: “Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place,” Bob Hicks wrote. “The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.” The “guest” was the wonderful dancer Erik Skinner, who was retiring from BodyVox (though not from performing) after this run, and the program included a bunch of old favorites that were themselves welcome guests.

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NW Dance Project: Jazz puns, modern dance brawls and Ravel

NW Dance Project's "Bolero + Billie" adds a bit of humor to the usual holiday spices

By ELIZABETH WHELAN

Kicking off the holiday season with a good ol’ jazz-centric pun, NW Dance Project presented Bolero + Billie at Lincoln Hall this weekend… you know, Billie Holiday? The evening was a two-part show: the first act, Billie, premiering a brand new work created in collaboration by six of the company’s dancers, was followed by a return to resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s contemporary, humor-ridden take on Ravel’s classic, Bolero.

Andrea Parson gets a lift in “Billie”/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Artistic director Sarah Slipper played a key role in this new piece, though perhaps not in the way you’d expect. Slipper’s ability to step back and see the potential in her dancers as blooming choreographers themselves is both a golden opportunity for the group of ten that call the company their home, but also a refreshing tale in the dance world that oftentimes fails to recognize that the full potential of professional dancers can extend beyond the task of performing someone else’s work.

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